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Soldier’s surprise visit home was best Christmas gift of all

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PEPPERELL — Two events, half a world apart, serendipitously aligned to make the Christmas season special for a local family this year.

One event was an impromptu lottery at a military outpost in Iraq. The other was a Cub Scout pack’s hometown fund-raising effort.

Things came together at Michael and Lori Levesque’s front door.

Staff Sgt. Michael Levesque, whose New Hampshire-based National Guard unit is currently deployed to Iraq, wasn’t slated for leave this Christmas. His family — wife Lori and their five children, ranging in age from 6 to 18 — had expected to spend the holidays without him. Then came the good news. He was coming home!

It was a surprise to him, too.

Levesque’s small unit, the 197 field artillery, 3rd battalion, held a lottery to give away two holiday passes. Two soldiers won and he was one of them.

When Levesque arrived at the airport in Manchester, N.H., the week before Christmas, newspaper reporters and photographers from The Manchester Union-Leader were waiting. Back home in Pepperell, a giant yellow ribbon was tied around a tree in his front yard. And another surprise was in store: A $250 check from Cub Scout Pack 55.

The group held fund-raisers, including a cake raffle, and earmarked the money for a military family in town who had someone serving overseas. The Scouts asked Veterans Agent Ted Harmon to help them channel the funds in the right direction and he suggested the Levesque family.

“They’ve got five kids; I’m sure they can use the money,” Harmon told them.

When Harmon called Lori Levesque with the news, he said, he got a surprise of his own.

“Do you want to talk to him? He’s right here,” Lori said. Harmon said he was worried at first that Levesque might have come home unexpectedly, due to an injury in Iraq, but quickly learned otherwise. The news was good on both ends of the conversation.

Harmon arranged a date and time to deliver the Cub Scout’s check to the Levesque’ home and he brought along a few guests in honor of the occasion. The family gathering consisted of Mike and Lori Levesque and their children — Michael, Kyle, Ryan, Ashley and Christopher — and Lori’s dad, Frank Maguire, who is an Air Force veteran. The visitors, in addition to Harmon, included Cub Scout Pack Leader Mike Landino and his 9-year-old son, Matthew; American Legion Post 213 Commander Steven Ernst; past commander and VFW Quartermaster Tony Saboliauskas; and Pepperell Selectman Joseph Sergi.

Matthew, in his Cub Scout uniform, presented the check to Lori.

“Military families really appreciate the things you kids do. It makes a huge difference,” she said.

Staff Sgt. Levesque also thanked the Cub Scouts for their generous gesture. “It’s comforting to know people here are looking out for my family. It helps us all over there to have so much community support,” said Levesque, who returned to duty in Iraq in January.

“We’re here to support you while you’re away protecting us,” said Sergi. On behalf of the town, he pledged to support the Levesques and other military families. “You don’t have to do this alone,” he said.

Ernst and Saboliauskas said the American Legion and the VFW are also ready to assist the families and both made a pitch for Levesque and any other returning soldiers to join their organizations when they leave the military.

Levesque, who runs a drywall contracting business in civilian life, joined the National Guard 11 years ago and recently re-enlisted. This is his first overseas deployment. He’d been in the Guard for nine years and out for two when he re-upped.

“All my friends had gone over. It was still in my blood,” he said. He’s been “in country” for three months out of a scheduled 12-month tour of duty, he said.

Levesque said his family moved to Pepperell in 1996.

On the home front, the holiday visit to the Levesque household did more than deliver welcome funds and community good wishes; it may have opened other doors as well. Thanks to input from Landino and his son, 6-year old Michael may join the Cub Scouts.

Previously, Lori said, she believed Scouting was a “father-son thing.” And with Michael’s dad overseas, “it’s hard to go for an entire year without dad.”

But Lori said there are support services out there, including grants that help pay for extra-curricular activities for the children of servicemen and women serving overseas. As a member of the Family Readiness Group linked to her husband’s unit, Lori said she could be a conduit for other area military families who want to tie into those grants and other support groups and services.

Lori can be reached via e-mail at lori.levesque @us.army.mil.

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